The Thrill is Gone

I suspect the Thrill is Gone out of Redmond. Microsofts announcement that its new Vista OS would not be launched in late 2006 in time for Christmas shopping is a watermark. Like the levels of water advancement that hit New Orleans during Katrinas breech of the levees and left their mark on all the flooded houses, this is the high water mark for the Microsoft OS desktop monopoly. It is all receding water from now on – the thrill is gone.

By not making this deadline, several things happen. Ballmer and Gates as an institution for making things happen at 1 Microsoft Way takes a big hit – despite the move of just a month. Really now, do you expect it to be a month ? Much more likely is the following. Release of a “free”Preview edition of Vista to Software Assurance, MSDN subscribers, ISV and VAR Partners plus MVPs with a year before the software either degrades or expires. Then 2-3 months later, a Preview_Slightly- – Edition is released to the general public for free download, it will have a lifetime approximating when Redmond thinks it can release a solid Vista candidate perhaps with WinFS, LINQ and other goodies on board. The positive is that this seeds the market and starts to generate some excitement, as grass roots experience and steady improvements in the Vista offering gets some savvy user enthusiasm churning – not the Win 95/98 obsession, but positive buzz. The problem with this delayed rollout is that a whole series of Exchange , Office, and Business Solution candidates also have to change their dance tickets drastically too.

Goner Markers

There are six factors contributing to this Goner scenario. First and foremost, Vista is late, all the components are simply not ready to go – particularly the transfer and conversion utilities => the how do we get from here: Windows 2000 and XP, ActiveX/COM/DCOM, MFC/VC++7, WinForms/WebForms/VBAForms/InfoPathForms/etc, VBA/VBScript/JScript/WSHL, Exchange various versions to there: WinPF/XAML, WinWF, WinCF, WinFS, .NET Framework 2, 2.5 or 3.0. That is the second problem – “there” is simply not ready either. SQL Server 2005/6/7 and Visual Studio 2005/6/7 are taking a beating among users trying to figure out how far the tools will take them into Vista. This is particularly true at the Enterprise or Team ends because all the parts are not in place. And as for the VISTA side of the development tools – XAML, WinWF, WinCF, LINQ, WinFS are moving targets making development and designer tools for these frameworks hard to put a bead on.

But besides the internal problems there are serious external ones – The biggest and third factor indicating Vista as a goner is user and media skepticism. The media community is not going gaga over Vista and they are reflecting user and customer pushback. Check out the following sampling of articles from Computerworld – customer ire, InfoWorlds Ephraim Schwarz – Microsoft Inept, BBC – resource hog, and eWeek – Windows Rot are typical. Also there will not be the stampede mentality of Windows 95/98 or even Windows XP. Even the major analyst houses like Gartner and Forrester are urging caution on being a Vista early adopter because of the development tool and potential bug turmoil Vista presents. Finally, the blogosphere which is getting ever more influential and over which Microsoft has least control of, is definitely “show me” country with respect to Vista.

The fourth goner factor is that Microsoft is once again leaning on VARs, ISVs, and OEMs to do a shipload of work for them with major driver, software conversion, and new compatibility targets. But in the case of OEMs, this is for a Vista product line that could be worth more than the hardware being sold and for which hardware margins are razor thin while Microsofts margins are ever so plump. Regardless of what temporary and marketing short term “juice” Redmond supplies, the VISTA margin equations may just not work. And as for ISV and VARs, they have seen their Windows market share and profitability plummet despite Ballmers promised Vista/Office/Desktop Billions and Billions and Billions. Simple fact of the matter its hard to be a Microsoft Software partner with out seeing your marketshare be eaten alive by Redmond( ask the security, utility and BI vendors for starters). Oh you can be a Microsoft Vassal … uh VAR and do well or eek out at their whim and bidding (I know of both).

The fifth goner factor is “Doing Things Right”. This is a follow on posting that contends that Microsoft has become what it formerly mocked in the early 1980s – the hated Evil Empire. Sample- on David Lettermans Tonight show, Dave interviewed an audience member in Stump the Band. The gal turned out to be from Seattle and worked for Microsoft. “Ohh” said Dave “Is it safe for me to be talking to you”. Now if Dave Letterman is one thing – he is highly cognizant of power and influence. But the record of Microsoft controlling desktop innovation for its own ends through suppression of rivals software, demanding compliance strictly with MS software exclusive preloads of OEMs, and imposing less than full open standards plus proprietary methods on end-users – all the sins of monoply evil are are legend and legion.

The “for-examples” legion include – look at Pen operating systems. After devastating the competition with pre-announced and never delivered WinPen vaporware, Redmond continues to flounder with its own Tablet PCs despite having absolute control of all things desktop. Microsoft has failed to establish in five years a winning business model despite having full rein of the market including OS, browser, Office plus more and more major desktop applications. Next , look no furthur than the thwarting of Java on the desktop with deliberate pollution of Java JVMs and all Java development tools. This has been replaced in the Microsoft world with Redmonds proprietary Java clone, C#(Yes Microsoft “opened” basic C# and the CLI by registering them with ECMA; but no
even with Mono there is nothing close to a complete .NET 2.0 Framework available from Open Source nor 3rd parties) . But the coup de grace in thwarting development has been in the Web world where Redmond has stonewalled Web standards and progress through no updates to IE(and IE7 is still a year off) and general suppression of all W3C and other desktop Web standards from JavaScript E4X through XForms and SVG to DOM rationalization and CSS. And now Microsoft has the hutzpah to want back into Web developers good graces with its proprietary AJAX and “new” IE7 which still falls short of promised W3C standards made 7 years ago.

So in the process of eliminating software partners, imposing its will on corporates and home users alike with “Software Assurance” and prices holding well above the industry-wide cost pricing trends elsewhere, Microsoft has emerged as the IT Industrys Pariah. So Googles “Do No Evil” sells – and brings converts and explosive growth to PaloAlto.

6)The biggest fact of all is that for Bill Gates the Thrill is Gone. The signs are everywhere. He is spending more time in his charities and has the opportunity to make a name to eclipse Carnegie, Rockefeller, and perhaps even Nobel. His charity contributions are taking on the wicked problems especially in health and social economics that major governments and International Institutions have failed to cope with. Now this work is dual sworded and tends to reach a peak when his business dealing get particularly sordid -during the antitrust trial, also following no updates to IE for 5 years and thwarting of all major W3C standards to do with Web and increasingly XML. Then in 2005 bald and blatant attack on the very BI partners and pureplay competitors by giving away for free a complete BI Stack – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde replete.

But one can see that Bill as Software Architect is missing major plays in the industry – he simply has not been able to work out a business model for pens and tablet PCs despite owning everything necessary in sight on the desktop. He missed handheld and mobiles and is playing catch up in just about every embedded market. And having missed the independence and pervasiveness of the Web the first time, you would think Bill would not miss SaaS-Software as a Service via the Web – you be the judge on whether Microsoft is playing catchup in that arena or has invested too much in getting everybody to convert to Smart Clients.

But the most important factor is that keeping track of the enormity of IT is huge. No one will question Bills ability to hose down information. But even for the Great Hoser the task is Brobadingnangian. The task is enormous to design architectures and systems for all aspects of n-tier heterogeneous distributed processing. The 6As of Presentation layer have many trade-offs and contradictory requirements. The long transactions, messaging and replication reconciliation of the new Persistence layer has equally intimidating trade-offs and resolution recipes. While the Transport Layer with all its hardware and software levels of performance, reliability, security and other trade-offs makes for an ever accelerating set of Schumpeter disruptions – new players with better models and insights displacing traditional players protecting markets and temporary leadership positions. Bill may simply not be interested in keeping on tap with all of these complex games.

Second, managing the troops has become daunting especially given the static stock market performance (essentially level Microsoft stock prices for the past 3-5 years which has taken a way the not just the mystique but also a lot of the stock option perks that was the norm throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s). Persistent reports appear from 3rd parties and Microsoft bloggers themselves – the Thrill is Gone as reflected in reduced dedication and willingness to go Hardcore for so long. But this malaise also is reflected in the level of internecine warfare on the Redmond campus – the balance between keeping the troops on the same page while trying to actively promote competing ideas and inspiration is hard to do in the best of times. In the current plateau climate it must be doubly daunting. For his troops the thrill is gone – and its not certain that either Bill or Steve are big in the Personal Motivation Game.

Finally, Bill and Steve as IT Pariah Partners has been a successful act. But that was done when Microsoft was either the lowest cost competitor in many markets or was the replacement for other Evil Empire or arrogant players . But now Microsoft is the high cost solution in so many markets – especially with Open Source and the transition to Software as a Supported Service model. Redmond will have none of this – its inimical to their business model of high margin packaged software protected by EULA-means-no-warranties-whatsoever model. Let VARs handle the support market. Getting into the support business means definitely the Thrill is Gone. So expect a major Microsoft transition in the next 1-3 years as both Bill and Steve decide a)what to do
with their Billions and Billions and Billions and b) how to change the Thrills for themselves, their troops, and their 0ther stakeholders.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006